From the UMass Amherst Advisory Council – Wellness Committee

Welcome Everyone to Fall 2020!

With all that we as individuals and a community have been dealing with around COVID-19 and the restarting of the academic year we thought that, as a committee, we could share some of our personal experiences on how we’ve dealt with various issues last semester and previous years in the hope that you can take solace and understand that you are truly not alone.

Adapting to the COVID situation as a senior!

My daughter was a senior last semester. She was living off campus with her good friends. During winter break she went to Shanghai, China and when she returned she was notified the semester would be online only. She came home immediately in order to quarantine with our family of four instead of her eight roommates. She adapted quite well even though they had to cancel their Spring break trip to Mexico. By the fifth week, she slowly started reintroducing herself to a couple of roommates and they were very careful. Alas, no live graduation. Very upsetting but we adapted.

Bronwyn Cooper is an emeritus of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.


Junior year cut “short!”

My son finished up his junior year in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, when he had to leave his off campus house to come home to Eastern MA. He had a full course load of classes that definitely would have gone smoother in person. He was able to do well in them because the professors were very understanding of the situation. The students of each course had an open line of communication with the professors. If there was a problem with connection at home, a time difference, or if another family member was affected negatively by the pandemic and had unanticipated needs, the professors encouraged the students to inform them of this early.

Something that is important to remember is that letting the professors know of any conflicts and problems in advance is always a good idea rather than telling them last minute. His professors were incredibly understanding when they knew he was proactive about his academic needs.

Kimberly Chamberlain is a parent of a senior and a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.


An abnormal first year!

My son picked UMass Amherst over several other schools because of the program he wanted (at the time Animal Science/PreVet) and the fact that several of his closest friends were going to be there. He did the research and ended up in a RAP for his first semester and settled into Cance Hall to begin his UMass Amherst journey.  His first semester had its trials (as it does for many first year students), but he changed his coursework for the 2nd semester and was making progress. 

He was on his way home for Spring Break when we got the news that the rest of the semester would be virtual.  We worked as a family to make sure he had a place in the house he could consider his study space.  It was somewhat disappointing for him as most of his courses ended up being pre-recorded videos by the Professors and TA’s and that made it hard for him to fully engage in his coursework.  He was able to stay in touch with his friends and classmates which helped make it more ‘real” for him.  He was grateful to get through the semester and finish his first year. 

This summer he changed his major and communicated with his new dean and advisor to make sure he’s on track. He now has a course load that should be manageable as he prepares to have the first half of his sophomore year virtual.  In trying to decide if he would go back to campus or not, he primarily talked to his friends that are in our area, and they all decided to do the semester virtually from their homes. They are all equally hoping that the COVID situation will provide a better outcome for the spring semester so they can return to Amherst to continue their college experience. 

It has been a series of family events to make all this happen with our son as the owner of the decisions.  If we all have conversation with our students and understand what they believe is best for them, then we can all feel comfortable with the journey they are on regardless of how rocky their first year experience might be.

J. Alan Bird is a parent of a sophomore, a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council, and Co-chair of the Wellness Committee.


A successful transfer story with a COVID twist

My daughter has returned to her studies this year as a junior. She began her college experience at UMass Dartmouth in fall 2018, and soon realized she wanted to be at a larger school. She transferred to UMass Amherst as a sophomore for fall 2019 and loved it from the start. The large campus has provided the diversity my daughter was seeking, and she’s met many new students, faculty, and staff. Her transfer experience was essentially seamless, and she’s been able to connect with several different departments on campus and develop a support system.

Before the University determined that students with an all-remote schedule were not invited back to campus, my daughter had decided that spending this semester at home was the right – albeit very difficult – choice for her. She’s found living arrangements close to home, but separate from her family, which enables her to continue her experience of growing independence. Today (August 24) was her first day of remote classes, and while Zoom experienced global challenges and she wasn’t exactly where she wanted to be (back on campus), she texted to let me know she had an awesome first day. Our students are resilient, and they’re finding their way through challenges – all part of the college experience.

Lolli Fleming is a parent of a junior and a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.


Let your students’ independence shine!

One of the best things you can do for your student is to give them power to be independent. College is a time of emergence into young adulthood. Your student will have more freedom now than any other time in their life. This exciting journey can also be a wonderful time to teach them about the role of taking responsibility for themselves.

I remember a faculty presentation that discussed the need for parents to be supportive but not overbearing. She showed this cartoon which brought it all home for me. I thought for sure that I was going to be that parent holding on to my child for dear life! But I quickly learned that the more I did for my student, the less independent he was in school. This time in his life is about him, and not about me!

Cartoon by Adam Zyglis from the Buffalo News!

I thought of a few tips that have helped me over the past 4 years:

  1. Encourage independence any way you can. The only way to become a strong adult is to be given the chance to behave like one. The student should take charge of communications/emails from the university, and make their own decisions. Mistakes are inevitable; this is part of learning.
  2. Teach your student to reach out to their advisors. Their job is to guide them through their academic curriculum. They are the experts, and your student should trust them.
  3. Add/Drop period is stressful. There always seemed to be class selection issues in the beginning; I empowered my son to work it out on his own, (I resisted the need to fix the problem myself) and his trusted advisor helped him.
  4. Teach your students to find their “helpers,” those people in their lives that can guide them along the way with whatever is needed, socially or academically. We all have helpers in our lives. They are everywhere; paying attention always brings them more into focus:)

Kimberly Chamberlain is a parent of a senior and a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.


The goal of the Wellness Committee is to serve as an advocate for undergraduate parents in all aspects of student’s health and wellbeing. Among its responsibilities, the Committee identifies key issues of concern as they relate to students’ safety, security, health and wellbeing. Additionally, the Committee gives feedback on new initiatives and policies proposed by the Office of Parent Services in the areas of students’ wellness and wellbeing.